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GameSim Tackles the Intersections of Gaming and GIS

Thursday, February 13th 2014
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Summary:

Gaming has been creeping into GIS for some time. And GIS has been creeping into gaming, too. GameSim founder and president, Andrew Tosh shares his thoughts on the state of art.

GameSim is a software company working in the video game, GIS, and modeling and simulation industries. It develops applications for government customers (U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and NASA) and commercial companies (Electronic Arts and CSX). Directions Magazine asked GameSim founder and president, Andrew Tosh about the intersection of gaming and GIS in 2014.

Directions Magazine (DM): You stated in the press release: “The GIS industry is growing and we have the unique opportunity to mix our creative abilities with our technical experience to provide just the right service for GIS.” Thinking about the opportunities for gaming’s technology and GIS data to come together, there have been some bits of integration (2001 press release). Why has that process seemed so slow? What were and are the significant barriers?

Andrew Tosh (AT): If you look at the three industries GameSim targets, the gaming, simulation and GIS industries, you’ll see that they have many of the same goals at a high level, but differ in terms of specific requirements.  In terms of visualization, their goals are:

  • GIS analysts want to visualize the world realistically.
  • Game producers want visually pleasing environments.
  • The modeling and simulation industry prioritizes both of these qualities but is willing to make trade-offs.

We are putting forward products and services that straddle all of those needs.

GameSim works as a game studio for major publishers (e.g. Electronic Arts), giving us unique insight into truly understanding how to utilize gaming technology, which is more than just improved graphics. There has been impressive development within the gaming industry in terms of user interface design, procedurally generated content, and fast, responsive applications that better utilize the power of the hardware (especially modern GPUs).

DM: Conform is GameSim’s first GIS offering and was launched at the beginning of 2013 (press release). It’s "a new software product that provides unparalleled performance and ease of use for users of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data. Conform is an innovative software product for viewing, editing and analyzing GIS information.” The product is also described as a "GIS and Terrain Database Toolkit.” What are the key features/distinguishers for GIS users? In short, why should I even look at this instead of staying the course with my Esri or open source solution of choice?

Figure 1: Conform displaying LiDAR, elevation, feature and imagery data in a 3D view (click for larger image)

AT: With Conform, as a platform, we focused on two very specific requirements:

  • Easy to use, allowing someone to become proficient within minutes
  • Near real-time fusion of large amounts of content to be visualized in both 2D and 3D

With a platform that has that ability, we are able to create plug-ins for customers that solve more specific requirements. For instance, with GIS customers, that means support for new formats, like LIDAR, and features such as annotation tools to improve collaboration. For our simulation and gaming customers, we are creating export plug-ins to go into simulation formats, such as OneSAF, as well as game engine formats, such as Unity, in addition to a new plug-in to procedurally generate high quality 3D models from feature data.

DM: Your GameSim team used Conform internally before releasing it as a product. What were the key tasks they needed to perform? Did your game development users determine the feature specification by themselves or did you reach out to the GIS community as well? If so, how did you gather community input?

AT: One of the first projects we used Conform on was CSXMoves (an educational game that we created for CSX). CSX was initially interested in having real-world environments, so we used feature and elevation data to create virtual worlds that we put into the game engine.

Figure 2: Scene from CSXMoves, an educational game that used Conform for generating the environment (Click for larger image)

We have an extensive background in taking GIS data and generating virtual environments for the military simulation industry. Therefore, we had a solid perspective on what the tool would need to accomplish for our simulation and gaming customers. We were on less solid footing with the GIS industry. As a result, we brought on talent that was experienced in the GIS industry. We also engaged with GIS firms that were interested in a tool like Conform to make sure we focused on the right feature sets. Based on that feedback, we decided to focus on real-time visualization of raw data (i.e. no pre-processing steps) and ease of use.

DM: Conform runs on Windows, OS X and Linux. Was that a key goal when productizing it or did that just “come along for the ride”?

AT: Yes, it was a key goal. Windows is certainly the primary platform that our users want, but we receive interest for our OS X and Linux builds as well.

DM: The product has been out for a year. How’s the reception? Can you give examples of existing users or industries that are interested and how they are using, or are planning to use, Conform?

AT: Our biggest customer is SE Core, which is a project under the U.S. Army that is responsible for building environments for simulation systems. They have many uses for Conform, as they previously had long processes of taking GIS data, cleaning it up in traditional GIS tools and then running it through pipelines that generate the 3D visual representations. With Conform, they are able to see the 3D visual representation in near real-time from the start of the process.

Figure 3: Caption: Conform displaying elevation, feature and imagery data in 2D and 3D views (click for larger image)

DM: What’s next for GameSim and Conform?

AT: We have a number of great features on our roadmap. We think the initial offering we released in 2013 was very strong, but it was only the foundation. We currently have funding from the U.S. Army to develop a number of plug-ins for Conform, including an annotation tool (which provides a way for GIS analysts and terrain database engineers to collaborate) and procedurally generating full 3D buildings based on geographic locations (e.g. taking a footprint and attributes to automatically create a rich 3D building).

Conform has a bright future not only as a standalone commercial product, but also as an important tool for GameSim to use internally for customer service projects. We are a big believer in eating your own dog food.


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